Oct 042011

Imagine that you were unemployed, and wanted to learn how to use a new Mechanical CAD program. What would you do?

The first challenge would be to get your hands on the software. In some cases, that’d be easy. In other cases, not so easy.

Autodesk makes over 30 of their products available for free through the Autodesk Assistance Program website.

PTC makes a free version of Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express available to anyone who wants it. The software has some limits (I’m particularly irritated by the lack of a shell function), but it is a decent program for learning Creo Elements/Direct (aka CoCreate.)

SolidWorks used to offer free software through their Engineering Stimulus Package website. No more. Their website says “Having achieved the goal of helping retrain the unemployed workforce, this program has officially ended.” (I’m certainly glad they achieved that goal.)

There are not too many programs tailored to get CAD software in the hands of unemployed engineers. Unless you happen to be a student:

The requirements to get student versions of software vary. I some cases, you need to provide a copy of a student ID. In other cases, you need to show proof of enrollment. In other cases (such as with Autodesk) you need to have a .edu email account. Beyond this, the software availability varies country by country.  And, as you might imagine, the software is not licensed for commercial use.  Only for personal learning.

In the United States, it seems that, in most cases, enrolling to take a single course at a local community college might be enough to make you eligible to get student software.

I’d like to argue that the bar should be even lower to get access to student versions of MCAD software, but vendors might find quibbling over $100 or $150 is a bit precious.  And it is–unless you’re unemployed, and don’t have that kind of money to spare.

Because I’m not a student, and haven’t tried to get these programs, I can’t say how the verification requirements are enforced. (If you have some experience with student MCAD software, though, I’d be interested in hearing about it.)

Ultimately, the important question I have for CAD vendors is this: Why make it harder than necessary for people to learn to use your software?


  • Anonymous

    May be CAD vendors need to take a look on new type licenses. Kind of “creative common” for CAD. No commercial use. Enrollment mechanisms seems to me odd.

    • http://cadsetterout.com/ Paul Munford

      I think that CAD via the cloud will make a big difference here. i.e. you log on, use the CAD software to follow a tutorial and then log off. No install, no licence.

      • http://evanyares.com Evan Yares

        Very insightful. And entire curricula, from multiple sources (schools, developers, major customers etc.) could be hosted on the PDM.

        Still, there would be a license, along with terms of service. Much like World of Warcraft.

    • http://evanyares.com Evan Yares

      Changing licensing is a problem. Most CAD licenses are very protectionist, and are carefully crafted by lawyers. It would be difficult to get vendors to buy-off on any simplification. The “no commercial use” clause is included in all educational licenses–on top of technical modifications that make commercial use impractical (e.g., encrypted file formats, no export capabilities.)

      The enrollment mechanisms make sense if you follow the money. Most CAD vendors use specialty education vendors (Journey, Digital River, or others) to deliver their student software. They’re also trying to avoid crossover (e.g., using student versions in classrooms or in technical schools.)

      I’m not suggesting a wholesale abandonment of these mechanisms, or the license fees, but I am suggesting that a real “rethink” about these issues is in order.

  • http://www.mossdesigns.com Elise Moss

    I teach CAD at the community college level as well as at a state university. It is relatively easy for my students to download and access both SolidWorks and Autodesk software. SolidWorks has been excellent with regards to supporting retraining and student software. Every student in my class receives a FREE 90 day license of the software for their use. Additionally, my students are able to take the CSWA exam at the end of the term for FREE. I have a passing rate above 65% on the CSWA exam which means that the majority of my students end the term certified as SolidWorks associates…proficient enough to get an entry level job using CAD.

    My Autodesk students are provided a link that grants them access to Autodesk’s student community. No need for an edu email. They can download the software and use it for more than a year for FREE. Additionally, Autodesk has been sponsoring certification days where users can take the certification exams at a steep discount – $25 per exam.

    Yesterday one of my students approached me. He was down to his last employment check. He started his new job on Monday. Because of the training he had received in my class and my support, he had taken the Autodesk certification exam and was now certified in Revit. He used the portfolio of work he created in my class to land his job. He was hired by an AEC firm that was looking to transition to Revit. He is extremely excited about the opportunity. I couldn’t be prouder.

    The only downside for my students is that many of them do not own a laptop or have access to high speed internet. This makes downloading CAD software very difficult, if not impossible. SolidWorks is kind enough to ship me DVDs each year for my classes (about 100 DVDs per year) at no cost to help my students get the software. Autodesk doesn’t do this, but I understand this is extremely costly, plus it opens up the software for piracy. Since the SolidWorks licenses are only for 90 days it is a lower risk for SolidWorks.

    Autodesk and SolidWorks do a tremendous job of providing students with software. However, users need to enroll in a local community college (classes at the community college where I teach cost less than $100 for a full term) and take advantage of the training provided.

    • Stacy J.

      for several years now Bentley has offered it’s software and a lot of it’s distance learning lectures, self paced classes, etc free of charge to displaced workers. Here’s the link:


    • http://evanyares.com Evan Yares

      Bravo. As Emerson said, “Doing well is the result of doing good. That’s what capitalism is all about.”

    • Meanguitar03

      solidworks is an awesoe dafting program, but DSS are greedy pricks!!!

  • Stacy J.

    Sorry for the dbl post. For several years now Bentley has offered it’s software and a lot of it’s distance learning lectures, self paced classes, etc free of charge to displaced workers. Here’s the link:


  • http://jonbanquer.blogspot.com/ Jon Banquer

    For years Gibbscam has made excuse after excuse after excuse for not having a student version of Gibbscam.

    I remember being invited to attend a Gibbscam class at Gateway Community College in Phoenix, Arizona by someone I worked with who was taking the class. Every single student in that class told me they had their own unofficial student version to learn with at home. That was 7 years ago. Gibbscam still has no student version.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  • Geoff Hedges, PTC

    Hi Evan,

    No need to be irritated, Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express has a shell function, see the screen shot below.

    Best Regards,
    Geoff Hedges

  • Thomas Wingate

    I like it!
    But important to remember that 100 USD is still a LOT of money for the majority of the worlds population. Gross national income per capita puts 100USD rougly at 1 monts salary for roughly 70 out of 170 countries (though this is only based on the mean, not adjusted by inequality distribution).
    Would love to see the CAD vendors use a national multiplier based on the GDI for each country: So if you lived in Burundi the license cost would be multiplied by ~0.00237 (Burundi GDI 88.82 USD / US GDI 37,499.20 USD) ie ~23 cents :)
    But until that happens I’m all for $99 laptops and pirated software for all developing countries.

  • Glenn Stanton

    SketchUp 8 has a free version which also combined with numerous free scripts is pretty powerful.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Evan,

    My name is Mark Fischer and I am the Sr. Director for the PTC Academic Program.

    Reviewing your column on CAD for the Unemployed, I wanted to provide some updates for you.

    You mention that users can download Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express for free. That is true…..however, we are also offering Creo Elements/Pro for free to unemployed users.

    PTC has also developed customer-based ‘unemployed’ free software programs for those engineers who have been recently laid off. We started this first with NASA employees and have branched out.

    To help the future workforce, we need to look at all potential students….not just those in the classroom.

    Unemployed users interested in our CAD offerings can email PTC at student@ptc.com.

    The edition we offer is called the schools edition. Now if they want extended functionality; such as, Mechanica or surfacing, they can also purchase the Student Edition from the PTC eStore.

    In a months’ time, we will be launching the Creo 1.0 Educational Editions. This will be available to these users as well.

    In the classroom, we are looking at the complete education pipeline…….starting in elementary school to College/university. If users are interested in finding our more, they can access http://www.ptc.com/go/academicprogram

    Mark Fischer

  • Engineeringtech

    When the economy soured and my employer started laying off people left and right, I suddenly realized just how obsolete my skills are. I’ve done over 800 drawings with Autocad LT, and am very fast and efficient with it. But are any other employers going to want my skills? Would I be let go?

    I’ve been working with Autocad LT 2006 since the program came out, and my employer refuses to move to a 3D CAD program, or even newer version of LT. In fact, our electrical engineers are working with an 80’s DOS based CAD program! I’ve suffered for 12 years from a still undiagnosed health problem. It makes it very difficult for me to sit more than 15 to 20 minutes in a chair with a straight back. My employer allows me a chair that reclines. Since I build the tools and fixtures I design, I’m able to mix up my wrok and move around every 20 minutes. I consider school desks, church pews, restaurant booths, air plane seats, etc. pure torture. So my opportunity for schooling is very limited.

    Thinking I might be able to learn a 3D program on my home laptop, while reclining on the couch, I contacted Dassault, Autodesk, and several other CAD vendors. Dassault and Autodesk would not allow me the use of their Engineering Stimulus or student versions, because I am not unemployed, and not a student. I asked if special pricing was available. No! I asked if payment plans were available. No! Some other vendors even said they would not SELL to individuals! You’d think the CAD vendors would want as many people as possible trained in their tools. Employers don’t “out of the blue” buy 20 seats of a particular CAD program. They buy what their employees are comfortable with, want to use, and will get the job done. I even asked my employer if they would share the cost of an upgrade with me. No! (Probably wouldn’t run on the drastically underpowered desktop they give me anyway…. )

    My employer is again having difficulty, and laying off people, and I’m getting scared. So I am again considering a personal purchase – of Solidworks or Solid Edge. I’ll have to pay full price. I probably won’t be able to buy one of the older versions with lower system requirements. So I will also have to buy a workstation. I’m questioning if it is worth while.

    Suggestions anyone?

  • Anonymous

    btw, I am testing the Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express 4.0 and comes with the shell function… indeed in the basic tutorials the Shell feature is used with the second exercise. (or maybe we are talking about different ‘shell’ feature?)